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Getting your résumé right

Published on Thursday, 14 Jun 2012
Alex Tham
Pallavi Anand
Marc Burrage

Hong Kong is known for its fast-paced working culture, where things need to be done quickly. As a result, employers here spend less time reading CVs than the global average, according to a research by Robert Half, the specialised recruitment firm for accounting, finance, banking and technology professionals.

The survey, involving senior financial professionals in 150 Hong Kong-based firms, reveals that chief financial officers (CFOs) – who usually have the final word on banking and financial services hiring – spend an average of eight minutes and 25 seconds reading a CV and deciding whether a person is worth interviewing. The global average is 11 minutes and 17 seconds.

CFOs in Hong Kong spend less time evaluating each CV compared with their counterparts in Singapore (nine minutes and 32 seconds), Japan (10 minutes and 51 seconds) and mainland China (12 minutes and 17 seconds). The shortest time is spent by CFOs in Dubai (six minutes and 44 seconds), while those in Switzerland clock in the longest at 14 minutes and 46 seconds.

Pallavi Anand, director of Robert Half Hong Kong, advises job applicants to have a CV that can lead the interview in the direction the candidate wants them to go. “CVs form the basis of the script for the interview’s questions. This means candidates have to carefully customise their CVs to match what the company is looking for. It is also important to make sure your CV has impact.”

A tailored CV and covering letter fitting the most important criteria in the job description is always helpful. Given the high number of CVs received for each job opening, applicants have to showcase their key strengths, including skills, experience, tangible achievements and personal attributes, to create a good impression and stand out from the competition.

 “The content of your CV is what matters most, given the limited time that employers have to read it. A good CV should have no more than three to four pages. List your professional and higher education qualifications and language ability. Get someone to look at it for you. Be prepared to refine it until it is right,” says Anand.

A good CV must be able to arouse interest in prospective employers, says Alex Tham Koy-siong, senior co-ordinator (Admissions), Provost Office and admissions tutor of the Department of Marketing at City University of Hong Kong.

“A good CV should spark conversation during the job interview. For example, if the applicant has hosted a prize-giveaway ceremony, write it down. It might be something of interest that employers want to know more about. Inspiring interviewers to ask questions regarding your achievements is a way to showcase your abilities and qualities,” Tham says.

Although making an impression on an employer is important, it should follow the expected format. Being creative can only make you stand out for the wrong reason.

 “A CV is a professional sales document used by employers to make their first judgment about the applicant, so you should stick to the expected format,” says Marc Burrage, regional director of Hays in Hong Kong, the international recruitment firm. “This is because the classic written CV contains all the information an employer wants and expects to see in order to create their shortlist.”

Besides basic information, applicants can also talk about their career objective in their CVs. “We suggest that when applying for entry-level roles, applicants should include a career objective. Reference this career objective back to the job applied for to give an indication of what you want – and avoid beginning this with, ‘All I’ve ever wanted to be is a…’ Make sure you rewrite your career objective each time you apply for a role to ensure it sells what qualifies you for this particular role and what contribution you can make in the role. Another mistake is to make it self-serving, focusing on what you want, such as ‘to obtain a meaningful position’, rather than what you can do for an employer,” says Burrage.

When listing your work experience, never leave gaps. “If you took a year out, carried out an interim assignment, or travelled for six months, say so. If you do include gaps, potential employers can suspect the worst. Stating the years – rather than the months – you started or finished a role can also send off alarm bells. Writing ‘2011-2012’ could be interpreted as employment from December 2011 to January 2012 unless you say otherwise. It is also important to include details of two references, such as former employees. If you are a graduate with no work history, include details of a former lecturer,” says Burrage.

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